Downing Street’s medical and science chiefs have warned Brotins to take new guidance serious as there is a huge possibility of a second wave while adding that Britain will continue to be plagued by coronavirus until next spring.
Chief medical officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance appeared alongside the Prime Minister at today’s Downing Street briefing as Boris Johnson unveiled a relaxation of lockdown rules.
The UK Prime Minister said he wanted to ”make life easier” after an ”incredibly tough time” with bars, restaurants, cinemas and hairdressers in England able to reopen and running from July 4 – dubbed ”Super Saturday”.
Mr Johnson also announced the further relaxation of the two-metre social distancing guidance, reducing it to one metre while his advisers warned there is no evidence of the coronavirus burning itself out and added that it is ”crucial” that Britons do not go back to ”life as normal” yet.
Leading medics also warned that there is a very ”real risk” of a second wave of the coronavirus hitting the UK, advising that the UK Government must start preparing for it now.
Prof Whitty cautioned: ”We will be in for really quite a long haul. If people hear a distorted version of what’s being said, that says ”this is all fine now, it’s gone away” and start behaving in ways that they normally would have before this virus happened, yes, we will get an uptick for sure.
”It is absolutely critical people stick to the guidance that has been given, it’s changed guidance for there are still very significant restrictions socially and there are very significant restrictions on business of different sorts.’
On the changes to the two-metre rule, Prof Whitty said it was a ”balance of risk”.
”I think that this is a reasonable balance of risk,’ he said, but it was ‘absolutely not risk-free.”
He further predicted that the country could have to cope with Covid-19 into 2021: ”I would be surprised and delighted if we weren’t in this current situation through the winter and into next spring.
”I expect there to be a significant amount of coronavirus circulating at least into that time and I think it is going to be quite optimistic that for science to come fully to the rescue over that kind of timeframe.
”But I have absolute confidence in the capacity of science to overcome infectious diseases – it has done that repeatedly and it will do that for this virus, whether that is by drugs, vaccines or indeed other things that may come into play.
”For medium to long term, I’m optimistic. But for the short to medium term, until this time next year, certainly I think we should be planning for this for what I consider to be the long haul into 2021.’
He said the Government’s approach to easing the lockdown was ”reasonable” but added: ”It is not risk-free. It cannot be risk-free. Every time you take a step to open up there is some associated risk with that.’
He added: ‘I think we are with this a long time. We hope that the vaccines and the therapeutics come along soon but there are no guarantees on any of those.”
Mr Johnson said he would not hesitate to put the ”handbrake” on if the coronavirus starts to surge again and acknowledged the caution of his advisors.
He said: ”As for July 4, I hope it will be a great day but obviously, you know, people have got to make sure they don’t overdo it.
”I know Chris (Whitty) is particularly worried about this – we can’t have great writing scenes in the beer gardens when the virus could be passed on.
”This has to be done in a sensible way, people should be giving their names to the pubs, to the restaurants, doing things in a way that allows us, if something does happen, to track back, to test and trace and stamp out an outbreak.
”That’s the absolutely crucial thing. People should, of course, enjoy themselves but as Chris and Patrick have said, this is going to be with us for a while. We’ve just got to adjust and make it work.’
”I think it is great to see people out shopping again. Frankly, I can’t wait to go to a pub or a restaurant even if it may not be wholly compatible with the new diet that I’m on.
”I think people need to go out and enjoy themselves and rediscover things they haven’t been able to do for a long time.
”I want to see bustle, I want to see the activity. But I also want to see everybody being careful, staying alert and following the guidance.
”As for all the things I’m looking forward to, there is a very long list. I’d love to go to the theatre again, I’d like to go and see The Globe. I’d like to go to a restaurant, frankly. I would love to get my hair cut.’
Meanwhile, in a letter to the leaders of all of Britain’s political parties, top doctors have called for a rapid review to prepare the country for another crisis.
Surgeons, doctors, psychiatrists, scientists, nurses, other medical professionals and the editors of Britain’s best medical journals put their names to a letter to officials.
Published in the British Medical Journal, the piece said things needing ”rapid attention” are supplies of medical equipment, testing and tracing infrastructure, the disproportionate effect on ethnic minority people, and international co-operation.
They said the Government must get ”ahead of the curve” before the coronavirus returns in full force and focus on areas of weakness that could be improved while it is in retreat.
The letter surfaced as the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson today announced that the majority of remaining lockdown rules will be lifted on July 4 with social distancing continuing.
In their letter, the professionals wrote: ”Several countries are now experiencing Covid-19 flare-ups. While the future shape of the pandemic in the UK is hard to predict, the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk.
”Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain.
”The job now is not only to deal urgently with the wide-ranging impacts of the first phase of the pandemic but to ensure that the country is adequately prepared to contain a second phase.”